The Walking Dead returns for its eighth season with the promise of ‘all out war’, and jumps straight into proceedings. Whilst the series is known for taking it’s time to reach certain decisions, or to develop storylines (some viewers also call this time wasting), the first episodes of seasons go out of their way to give the audience something big, and whilst this episode does lack some of the energy and ferocity of the previous seasons finale, it does at least deliver the start of the promised war.
The episode spends a lot of time jumping around within events, to the point where it becomes almost impossible to tell what order things actually happened. We have Rick (Andrew Lincoln) giving a rousing speech to the assembled masses of Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom, a speech that is delivered in pieces throughout the episode, even right up to the end. This is intercut with Rick’s daydreams of his future, as well as closeup shots of his teary eyes and sweaty forehead.
Whilst some may feel that this adds something to the episode, I can’t help but feel that it detracts from the overall momentum of the proceedings. Surely a rousing speech from Rick before they go into battle would be more effective than a speech delivered disjointed over 40 minutes? It would be like getting the Independence Day or Braveheart speeches split over half an hour, it wouldn’t have helped those films, and it doesn’t help this episode.
The Walking Dead has tried a lot in the past to be more than just a horror series, and sometimes it does manage to do this, but other times it feels like the show is trying to force itself to be better than it is. Decisions about how a story is edited seem to be made because the creators feel that it will make the series appear deeper and classier than it is, and often lead to duller episodes because of this.
There are some good aspects of the episode, however, this review isn’t just going to be me bad mouthing it. There are some good character moments that are subtly weaved throughout the narrative, such as Michonne (Danai Gurira) telling Carl (Chandler Riggs) that he’s in charge of protecting Alexandria, Rick telling Maggie (Lauren Cohen) that he’ll be looking to her as a leader once they’ve beaten Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan), and the subtle look that Ezekiel (Khary Payton) given to Carol (Melissa McBride) when they’re reunited.
The episode manages to convey a lot about these characters, where they are in these moments and how they see the future, with very little dialogue, and it actually manages to be subtle and meaningful without trying too hard.
The plan that Rick and the others have is still not clear (why not just shoot Negan straight away instead of luring a horde of walkers?), but it becomes clear by the end of the episode that the assault on the Sanctuary is just the beginning stages of a larger plan, with the group having split up to attack other Saviour outposts and facilities in the final moments. It will be at least a week, possibly longer, before we see the full scope of their plan, which actually starts to pay into the promise of all out war.
The choice to pad out the episode with Rick’s daydreams about his future feel slightly off, and add to the pacing issues the episode experiences. Rick appears to have aged about twenty years, all gray hair, bussy bearded and walking with a stick, whilst Michonne looks no different, and Judith appears to have only aged about six years. Hopefully this is something that will only appear in the first episode and won’t be repeated throughout the season.
Despite some pacing issues at the start of the episode ‘Mercy’ manages to deliver an entertaining piece of television before the end credits role, and creates enough mystery and intrigue going into the second episode to keep audiences engaged.
The Walking Dead is now airing every Monday on Sky. Let us know what you think of the season.